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THE MASK, 1994
Starring: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Riegert, Peter Greene, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Jeni, Ben Stein
When shy bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss puts on an ancient mask, he unleashes a wild and crazy live action cartoon character who is everything he is not. Stanley soon finds that he has attracted the attention of both the police and the mob, who would both like to have the mask for very different reasons. When the mask ultimatley falls into the wrong hands it is Stanley who must summon all of his courage to save the city from complete destruction.
Early in his career, while a cast member on the television sketch comedy show In Living Color, Jim Carrey became known for having what many described as a “rubber face“, able to stretch and contort in ways that were seemingly impossible. It was this ability that helped him launch one of the most successful film careers of the past twenty years, with three breakout hits in 1994: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Dumb and Dumber and The Mask, a movie about a normal man who turns, essentially, into a living cartoon character. This was the perfect role for a gifted physical comedian like Carrey and, with his elastic features, it helped ignite him to superstardom.
Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) is a meek bank clerk living in Edge City, a crime ridden slum run by mobsters. One of the gangsters, Dorian (Peter Greene) is planning to rob the bank where Stanley works and sends his girlfriend Tina (Cameron Diaz) to case it. She encounters Stanley, who instantly falls in love with her. Later the same night, after Stanley is denied entrance to the exclusive Coco Bongo nightclub, which is coincidentally owned by Dorian, his car breaks down on a bridge. While waiting for help, Stanley sees what he thinks is a man floating in the river, but when he goes down to help he only finds a wooden mask which he brings home. Finding himself mysteriously drawn to it, he puts it on it transforms him into The Mask, a loud, green, over-the-top creature who acts like a walking cartoon character.
As The Mask, Stanley is not bound by any of his own limitations, including the laws of physics. He uses his new powers to get revenge on his auto mechanics who had previously been ripping him off. This attracts the attention of police detective Kellaway (Peter Reigert) and a reporter named Peggy (Amy Yasbeck), both of whom come to interview Stanley about anything he might know regarding the incident with his mechanics. Despite this, Stanley turns himself into The Mask again this time to rob his own bank in order to buy his way into the Coco Bongo, disrupting Dorian’s operation, and getting one of his men killed. The two meet again at the club, where The Mask is making a spectacle and dancing with Tina. They manage to shoot off a piece of his tie, which turns back into Stanley’s pajamas, alerting Kellaway that Stanley is The Mask. He manages to escape being arrested with the help of Peggy, who then turns him over to Dorian instead. Dorian steals the mask and gives Stanley to the police. Realizing the destruction a man like Dorian could do with the power of the mask, Stanley must do everything he can to stop him and save Edge City from total destruction.
The character of The Mask only works because he lives in a world about which many of us are already acutely aware: the world of cartoons, where physical limitations no longer exist, where characters can fall off cliffs, be shot at point blank range and always get up for the next adventure. The film contains numerous allusions to 1940s animation, especially to the work of Tex Avery, who invented Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. With the help of some amazing special effects, Carrey is able to, literally, transform himself into anything he wants to be. What better role could there be for a man who was already a cartoonish character himself? Of course this was a role that required more of Carrey than just slapstick comedy. He was actually allowed to act for the first time. As the shy and awkward Stanley, Carrey gives creates a sympathetic and charming performance, and it is for that reason only, because half the movie is grounded in reality, that we accept and care about the other, more surreal, half of the film. The Mask is a ridiculous character but, as we are allowed to get to know the man behind the mask, the movie never flies too far off the handle.
From 1994 on, Jim Carrey has enjoyed nearly uninterrupted success at the box office. Of the three films he made in his breakout year \year, The Mask is the one that best showcases his abilities, not only as a physical comedian but as an actor, and can be seen as a harbinger of things to come. Since then he has done well branching out, becoming a two time Golden Globe winning dramatic actor for his work in The Truman Show (1998) and Man on the Moon (1999). While he still does do the occasional comedy, Jim Carrey never again found the perfect balance between acting and physical comedy as he did in The Mask.